For all those of you who believe your life is over when you turn 30 or 40 or 50, I have a secret for you: I have passed those milestones and have never been happier, looked better, enjoyed life more, or felt more hard-won joy. When I was in my 20’s, I was a single parent putting myself through college with an ex-husband alternating between stalking me and not paying child support.
My 30’s were spent giving birth to another son and fighting for custody of him after another failed marriage. Once I heard a saying that life is like learning to play the violin in public, and I certainly did a lot of tuning my instrument!
Lately I have been writing about my father and this roller coaster our family has been on with him: from last month considering hospice options, to this month finding ourselves with Daddy miraculously back in our lives with his infectious huh-huh-huh laugh, impish playfulness, sweet temperament, and generosity of spirit.
On Thursday we had the best Thanksgiving I have ever experienced as we–hold onto your hat–had lunch in the family dining room of Daddy’s assisted living facility. I know what you are thinking–put rose-colored glasses on a half-empty situation, Anna–but this was not the case. Everything about this day was perfect, and I was reminded again that we have the most fun together as a family.
Last month Daddy was so weak and had lost so much weight that he was incapable of walking without assistance. On Thanksgiving he walked slowly and not only put up with our antics, but laughed himself silly as I relentlessly photo bombed my son Justin and his fiancee Tracy, and my niece Abby and her boy friend Holden. We like to set a tone of total merriment, and I landed squarely on that shore.
Pointless rules, ungrounded worries, trying to live up to other people’s expectations: I have found it a total waste of time. Living in fear and not fully being yourself is not the way to live, and many of us find that being ourselves is less difficult in our middle and later years.
At the age of 79, my mother is finally coming into her own after taking care of first her mother, then her father, followed by her disabled brother, and then my father who has dementia. As a girl and young woman, she was especially close to her grandmother, has always had a natural affinity for the elderly, and she took care of all of these loved ones without missing a beat. However, just in the last week I have seen another Mama who is spontaneously gleeful and fully in command of her own money and decisions. She has never been one to smile much in pictures or show much emotion, but here she is fully feeling her oats.
After experiencing many frightening episodes and Daddy’s losing down to just 133 pounds on his 6-foot-two frame, Mama came to the conclusion that she could no longer care for Daddy at home. Her earlier reticence to consider assisted living for my father have been unfounded, however, because Daddy has been transformed during the week he has lived in his new home, a just opened facility called Oakwood Senior Living where he is eating (unlike at the hospital and rehab center), gaining weight, playing a bit of pool at the facility’s pool table, walking without assistance, and encouraging his mostly female neighbors. Mama is there everyday, most of the day, since he refuses to eat meals without her, but we magically have Daddy back again–so anything beyond this is entirely gravy.
We play 100-piece puzzles with Daddy in the huge communal room of the memory care unit that is well appointed with a big-screen TV, large dining room, and comfortable seating. And here’s another epiphany: there is joy in Daddy’s face each day that I have not seen for years. And that is definitely more than enough for me!
Anna – 11/28/2015